Annoying backlash

People are all different. I get it. Over the last six months (actually a lot longer, but mostly over the last six months) I’ve talked to lots and lots of people about my book and asked for support in the form of a drawing or photograph. And as I said before, you never know what the reaction will be like. After having had this same conversation with several hundred (or possibly thousands) of strangers, I can say that the vast majority of reactions were positive.

Sure, there are many who don’t think that their pictures are good enough (which is actually not that much of a criterion since the idea has always been to get as many different interpretations of my poems as possible). And there are those who don’t want to fill in the usage agreement, mostly because they don’t feel comfortable with giving me their real names. That’s something I can very much respect and relate to. Then there are those who don’t have time because they’re busy working on their own projects. Or those who don’t have time for art at all. Some just aren’t interested in my book and some don’t seem to have any access to a scanner or printer. Some also told me that their art is only for themselves and that they don’t want anyone to ever use it in any publications. And some just didn’t reply at all. All of that is perfectly fine.

Of course there are also lots of people who are genuinely interested. As of this moment, the list I keep includes 16 people who have already sent user agreement and images, 26 who said they definitely will do it and another 61 who said they might. I keep reminding the latter every once in a while, because I know they’ve got other things on their minds. All in all those are good numbers, as I would love to reach between 50 and 100 supporters by summer 2020.

So as I said, I’ve probably had this conversation over a thousand times. This is how it usually goes:

  • I see someone post a really cool picture online.
  • I leave a like or comment because I know how much that can mean sometimes.
  • If I think they might be interested in the book (because the picture or artist seems somehow related to depression, sex or love), I ask them about it.
  • They might ask for some further information or say that they’ll look into it. Most say something like “I’m afraid I have to decline. Good luck though!” to which I answer something along the lines of “That’s a shame. Thanks for replying anyway and best of success with your own projects!”
  • Usually the conversation ends here. Sometimes it develops into a nice chat or I start following their account because they seem interesting. Once or twice I’ve ordered stickers with their designs online.

Almost all those encounters, whether “successful” or not, are respectful and nice. Only twice have I had someone telling me that they find my request rude (which I don’t personally agree with, but can very much understand). It happened a third time yesterday and this time really bugs me because the preachy comments just kept on coming until I eventually had to block a couple of people. I very rarely do that.

It started out like it usually does:

  • I saw a nice post online. It was a drawing of someone being told by a black figure (depression? anxiety?) that the world needs doctors and nurses right now and that making art won’t help anyone. The person in the picture (presumably the artist herself) then replied that art was all she had to offer.
  • I left a like because that’s a relatable post, and I also commented that the black figure was lying. I said that because, being an artist myself, I strongly believe that art has value (not necessarily monetary value though). I’m convinced that art is very much a part of getting all of us through this pandemic and that it is needed and sought out, maybe almost as much as doctors and nurses are. Maybe even more. The creation and consumption of art keeps many of us alive during these isolated times. So yes, that’s why I said the black figure was lying.
  • I then though that, being an artist herself, possibly knowing depression and also maybe battling with the thought of having nothing to offer, this woman might be interested in my book. So I asked her about it.
  • Even though I’ve made a habit of including the words “free picture” and a couple of links in my first tweet, just to immediately clarify the lack of payment I can offer, she soon replied something like “If you want to commission me, send me an e-mail and we can discuss prices.”
  • So I said once again that I couldn’t pay anyone, wished her best of luck with her projects and thought the conversation was over.

It wasn’t.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I received some rather mean and intrusive tweets by the artist herself (who then either deleted them or blocked me, because the tweets are no longer visible) as well as (and actually mostly) some other people. They criticized my character. They criticized my project. They sent me links to educate me on artists and payment. They told me how tasteless it was of me to ask a woman, obviously struggling to pay her rent (which wasn’t obvious to me at the time of my question at all), for free work. How tasteless it was to ask anyone any such thing during a pandemic. They said the question was rude, no matter how nicely you put it. Frankly, they said a lot, but seemed quite unwilling to listen. One even suggested some of them should join in on the project and then pull out their work at the last moment (which wouldn’t even be possible). It was a great example of social justice warriors being quick to jump to conclusions and attacking a stranger over something they didn’t care at all to understand. So I blocked them. And it annoys me.

It annoys me because I DO know that many (but by far not all!) artists rely on money for their work, especially in times like these. And had the woman said something like “I’m sorry, I can’t give away anything at the moment. I’m struggling to pay my rent. Good luck though,” hell, I just might have looked into her other work and maybe even bought something, like I have done before with other small artists I liked. Telling me how mean and insensitive I was didn’t quite wake the same urge to support her in me.

I also DO know that there are many artists who love to support others (yes, even for free). I myself would do it in a heartbeat. If someone asked me to support their passion project with a poem, I’d write them one. I’ve written and drawn for other people numerous times without thinking about any monetary compensation. I believe in working together. And I have received images by other artists who feel the same, even by some professionals who I never thought would give away anything for free. They were among the first to support my dream with a free image. I didn’t expect that, but it was heartwarming.

I also WOULDN’T ever ask an artist to “work for free” in a business context. For me, this book is not business though. It’s a personal passion project that already cost me a lot of (my private) money, as I have explained in former blog posts, and will cost me much more. I’ll never break even with it. And as I told that woman yesterday, if I paid one artist, I’d have to pay everyone (even the ones who didn’t ask for it, because that’s just fair). And I couldn’t afford that as it would add thousands of Euros to my bill.

I also DO know that a question can be insensitive even if it’s asked nicely. And had I realized just how stressed out this woman was, I would have left a nice comment under her picture and left it at that. But I didn’t realize that and I think I still handled the conversation rather politely.

And no, the conditions of my project ARE NOT NEGOTIABLE! I’m tired of people telling me that I should just get one artist for the entire book because it would be way cheaper. No shit! If that was what I wanted, I’d design the book myself. It would have been finished five years ago. I’m totally capable of taking photographs, drawing, doing digital designs … I studied that stuff. Also: I’m not stupid.

The whole idea of the book is to get AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to join in. That is the creative core of it. And I’m saying PEOPLE instead of ARTISTS, because that’s what I’m looking for. Human beings who want to contribute to this project. They don’t have to call themselves artists. They don’t have to draw or paint professionally. It’s a project for everyone.

I feel like I have made all of that very clear numerous times. And I would have explained it again, had anyone taken the time to listen. Shitstorming me is not how you fight for whatever just cause it is you think you’re fighting for. It’s just how you piss me off.

I tried to apologize for offending that woman, but as I said, her posts had vanished. I can only assume I got blocked. If that’s how you want to deal with things, so be it. I’m fine with that and I will move on and ask other people for their support. And 99% of them will be really nice about it, whether they are interested or not.

100 poems temporary cover


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